"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

The Chocolate Hot Dog

There’s Reggie Jackson lovers and Reggie Jackson haters.  I don’t think he cares which way they go so long as they shout, ‘Reggie!’”

Billy Hunter”

What was it that Pasternak said?  ‘Once in every generation there’s a fool who tells the truth exactly as he sees it.’  That’s Reggie.”

Jim Palmer

 
Tony Kornheiser wrote a great newspaer profile on Reggie at the end of spring training in ’78 for the Times. Reggie drove his Rolls to an exhibition game, Kornheiser rode shotgun, and got Reggie in fine form.*

Here’s how the piece, which is maybe 2,300-500 words, ends:

Jackson’s Lonely World, a Year After His Season of Hurt

March 27, 1978

By Tony Kornheiser

The uniform is tight and tapered, and he is into it in 15 minutes, ready to go. But the ride and the conversation have drone his insides dirty. Too much past dredged up. He needs something to keep his stomach down.

“There’s the man,” calls Dave Nelson, the Royal infielder, coming over to Jackson. “Congratulations, congratulations on a helluva World Series. You deserve it.”

Behind Nelson comes John Mayberry, the Royal slugger.

“Reggie!” Mayberry shouts.

“Rope, what’s up?” Jackson says.

“You, man. You, with your bad self.”

It is curious, but he seems most comfortable with members of other teams. With the Yankees, he is at his most comfortable at the batting cage, before games, when the other team’s players are close. You sense that is searching for vocal respect that only opposing players are willing to give him. It seems likely that still even after his Ruthian World Series, some of his teammates are either too jealous or too stubborn to admit that they were wrong about his ability as a player.

In the clubhouse Jackson is hesitant. Even now there is tenseness between him and many other Yankees. Yet, it may well be that he infers more hostility than actually exists.

“In the locker room I don’t feel like I’m one of the guys,” he says. “It’s hard for me to say this. I’d like to fit in, but I don’t. I don’t know if I’ll ever really be allowed to fit in. I need to be appreciated, even praised. I like to hear: ‘Nice going. Great going. You’re a helluva ball player.’ But I walk in feeling disliked. Maybe I’m overdoing it. Like I never get on anybody in the clubhouse unless it’s a situation where it’s obvious that it’s OK for me to say something. I stay in the background. I never talk to too many people, except maybe Fran Healy or Ray, the clubhouse attendant, or the press.

“I never small-talk with anyone; I don’t feel that anyone cares to talk to me. So I kind of shut up. I’m always the one who has to initiate the conversations. Sometimes I hear my voice in the locker room, and I wasn’t to take it back. I don’t want anyone to look at me or feel uncomfortable around me.”

These words are hard to hear and harder, perhaps, to say.

And then there is a game to play. He is at peace playing baseball. He starts in right field and plays five innings going to bat three times. Two outs and one RBI single. The people, who react to him as they react to no other Yankee—loud boos, even louder cheers—are satisfied. He has been held down, but not out.

With permission to leave early, Jackson showers, dresses and goes to his car for the drive home. There is a crowd, as usual. He sings autographs and discusses the care, its paint job and the reason he likes to park in the shades instead of the sun. Before leaving he takes a towel and wipes it down, wiping even the inside carpeting, making sure it is perfectly clean.

Forty miles outside Fort Myers he is playing his tape deck, and the chorus of the song repeats, ‘We’re all in this together.” Jackson is singing along. “All my life,” he says, “I wanted a car like this. I know it’s a rich man’s car. I’m proud I can afford it.”

“He should be happy,” says Chris Chambliss. “He has everything he could want.”

“Are you happy?” Jackson is asked.

“For print?” he answers as the car moves almost silently past the swamps on Alligator Alley.

* From the car ride…

“They look at the money I make and they say, ‘The nigger don’t deserve it’ he never hit .300,” Jackson says beginning a monologue that lasts three miles, his voice rising and failing like that of a ten-city evangelist. “They see me working hard on my defense, and they say, ‘The nigger’s a showboat.’ They see me sign autographs for two or three hours and they say, ‘The nigger just wants his name in the papers.’

“Do they ever say, ‘The nigger can play? That he wins? That he performs under pressure? Do they look at what I withstood and say, ‘That nigger has fiber? Just once I’d like to hear that’ I’d like to hear someone say, ‘Thanks, thanks for playing your butt off.’ No, it’s always, ‘What’s wrong with Reggie? He’s a phony, a fake, not real, a glory hound, a man-ip-u-la-tor.’ Why doesn’t anybody say, ‘The man can do it’ he goes out and does it?”

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4 comments

1 Todd Drew   ~  Dec 6, 2008 10:37 am

Great stuff from Kornheiser. I was too young to understand everything Reggie was dealing with, but I’m not too young to understand everything Alex Rodriguez is dealing with.

2 Todd Drew   ~  Dec 6, 2008 1:52 pm

Alex has me hooked on Tony Kornheiser now. His old stuff in The Times is outstanding.

3 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Dec 7, 2008 5:18 am

had NO idea Tony Kornheiser was writing this kind of stuff back in the 70s.. I only know him from the show he does with Michael Wilbon (which I came across on a hotel tv once and quickly changed the channel on..) and heard he is on MNF now...

Reggie..still the greatest Yankee of my childhood, by a nose over Donnie Baseball..

4 SteveAmerica   ~  Dec 8, 2008 11:23 am

Does Reggie's story remind anyone of a current Yankee, who is maybe slightly less self aware, and slightly more concerned with being marketable?

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver